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Broadband Roundup: Standard-Option Encryption, Madison Fiber Build, and the House of Wheeler

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WASHINGTON, October 1, 2014 – Smartphones are about to become “NSA-proof,” according to the Washington Post. In the wake of continued stream of information about surveillance by the National Security Agency, Google and Apple are making device encryption a standard feature in their newest software releases in an effort to ease consumer concern about government agencies prying into their personal lives.

Enhanced encryption in Apple’s iOS 8 keeps the tech manufacturer from handing over any of the data on a person’s device, as all the device data is under protection of the user’s passcode. Similarly, Google’s upcoming Android L software will enable encryption by default. Even if federal officials go to the company seeking a consumers’ data, the company wouldn’t be able to give it to them, since the encryption is device specific.

FBI officials, see this as a disturbing marketing push tells people that they are above the law. Others say that the claim of data being “NSA-proof” is just bogus. Chief technologist for the Center for Democracy and Technology Joseph Lorenzo Hall said, “If they [NSA] want it, they can get it.”

Madison Looks to FCC to Bridge Digital Divide with Municipal Broadband

Local government officials in Madison, Wisconsin, are exploring the possibility of building their own municipal fiber-to-the-home broadband network. Alderman Scott Resnick, currently the a 27 year-old President Pro Tem of the Madison Common Council, sees municipal broadband as a way to bridge the community’s “digital divide” for those who cannot afford high-speed internet access.

“We are doing one-fifth of what other communities are doing to try to cross the digital divide,” says Resnick, who works in the tech field at Hardin Design & Development. “We are failing Madison’s residents. I know that’s not a positive statement, but that’s the reality,” reported Isthmus.

The two main private broadband providers locally, AT&T and Charter, have laid “middle mile” fiber, but the “last mile” cables that run to the households do not enjoy bandwidth speeds to users of the network. Madison is technically well positioned for a community fiber network, as it owns 132 miles of fiber for its Metropolitan Unified Fiber Network that connects universities, colleges, hospitals and other anchor institutions.

However, municipalities must obtain competitive local exchange carrier certification under state law. This requires cities offering triple-play service – internet, television and telephone to run each service as independently profitable.

Comcast Answers

Comcast and Time Warner Cable responded to filings that argued against the proposed merger of the two companies in a submission to the FCC entitled “Applicants’ Opposition to Petitions to Deny and Respond to Comments,” according to a summary by the Benton Foundation’s Kevin Taglang.

The companies reiterate their claims that the acquisition is in the public interest because it would increase the quality of services to a greater number of people, encourage competing providers to innovate and invest more in their own networks and allow for greater investment and innovation due to the larger scale and reach of the combined company, especially when it comes to the deployment of higher broadband speeds and services. They specifically cite the ability to spread their Internet Essentials adoption program “to millions of additional low-income families throughout the acquired systems.” They argue that there are no “credible rebuttals” in any of the critical filings with the FCC.

Politico wrote that many of the merger opponents made “self-interested requests” of Comcast, “almost always with an express or at least an implicit offer to support” its Time Warner Cable bid if the demands were met. One of these requests came from Netflix, whic asked for a free interconnection deal between itself and the combined cable company–a practice called peering that has historically only happened between huge networks due to high rates of equal traffic going across the two–instead of the current paid interconnection deal–a practice called transit that occurs between access providers like Comcast and hosting providers like YouTube or Netflix when traffic between the two is more one-sided.

The House of Wheeler

The New York Times published a great piece on FCC Chairman Wheeler’s background. It touches on his history as a lobbyist and investor in the tech industry, as well as events from his current tenure in the FCC. As a lobbyist, he pushed for the E-Rate program despite it directly benefitting the cellular industry, and he opposed the potential merger Sprint and T-Mobile out of concern for less competition. Both flattering and critical, it’s a great, all-encompassing look at the man at the helm of the FCC.

 

Broadband Roundup

Apple Blacklists Fortnite, T-Mobile Expands Home Internet, Ajit Pai Reflects on Virginia’s Broadband Leadership

Apple will not reinstate Fortnite after court fight, T-Mobile expands in 4 states, Ajit Pai on Virginia’s broadband success.

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Ajit Pai, foreground, right

September 23, 2021 – Apple has blacklisted popular video game Fortnite from its app store until there are no appeals left in its court case, according to the head of the game maker.

On Wednesday, Tim Sweeney, the head of Fortnite maker Epic Games, posted a letter on Twitter from the lawyers for Apple stating that the company would not reinstate Fortnite on its app store until all court appeals have been exhausted, which Sweeney said could be as long as five years.

Last week, the U.S. District Judge ruled that Apple was not being anticompetitive when it banned Fornite from the app. The legal battle emerged when Fornite allowed its players to make in-game purchases directly through the game, which effectively bypassed Apple’s store and the commission it gets for transactions.

Sweeney said on Twitter on Wednesday that Epic agreed to “play by the same rules as everyone else” if reinstated on Apple’s app store.

“Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they’d ‘welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Sweeney said in a tweet. “Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users.”

In August, Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, introduced the Open App Markets Act to ban app store operators from requiring app providers to use their in-app payment systems.

T-Mobile expands home internet in four states

T-Mobile is expanding its home internet service to 51 cities and towns across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, it said in a Tuesday press release.

The company said it is able to expand its service because of “massive investments” it has made in its 5G network, which was a pitch to regulators when the company purchase Sprint.

“The traditional landline [internet service providers] have failed the south,” the release said. “Across these four states, nearly 1 million people do not have access to a single wired internet provider. That bears repeating — nearly 1 million people across just four states do not have access at all. This is unacceptable. And unfortunately, that’s not all. Landline ISPs have left nearly 1.7 million people without any access to speeds above 25Mbps and nearly 3.3 million people with access to only one provider.

“This lack of access and choice has led to high prices, poor service, and the unhappiest customers in America —ISPs rank dead last in recent customer satisfaction scores from ACSI. Dead. Last.

Fixed wireless technologies, as T-Mobile uses here, can fill gaps where fiber builds in rural and remote areas are prohibitively expensive.

Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai writes op-ed about Virginia’s leadership in narrowing digital divide

Former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai wrote in an op-end in the Washington Post on Wednesday outlining how Virginia became a leader in ending the digital divide.

The Virginia resident, who is now a partner at Searchlight Capital Partners, noted that the state’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative ensured public funds weren’t a limiting factor to build the last mile connections to homes and businesses, as it plowed money in areas traditionally not ventured by private telecoms because of a lack of return. The initiative also involved public utilities to lease fiber capacity to the telecoms.

“Having led the Federal Communications Commission, I’ve been able to take a bird’s-eye view of the country and assess the effectiveness of various state programs,” Pai said.

“I can say without reservation that Virginia is leading the pack in establishing a framework for what I like to call “digital opportunity” for all its citizens. Its success in broadband can be attributed to several factors: the governor’s consistent prioritization of broadband, bipartisan support and funding from the General Assembly, an efficient and successful VATI program and enabling electric utilities to deploy middle-mile infrastructure.

“This framework will deliver universal broadband throughout the commonwealth. And it is a model for many other states in our nation, large and small, and from coast to coast.”

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Broadband Roundup

Tech Sues Texas over Social Media Law, $80 Billion Investment, Broadband and Growth

A coalition of groups argue the Texas law violates the Constitution, US Telecom on investment and Connected Nation on impact.

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Photo of Mike Saperstein from his Twitter account

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021— NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association have jointly filed a lawsuit against Texas, arguing that a recent law designed to prevent censorship on social media is unconstitutional.

The CCIA is following through on a threat it made to sue the state should the bill be passed into law, following the bill’s passage in Texas’ Republican controlled House. Unsurprisingly, the bill faced little opposition in the state’s Republican Senate and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbot in mid-September of 2021.

“ We will always defend the freedom of speech in Texas,” Abbot said in a statement, “Social media websites have become our modern-day public square. They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely — but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas.”

The CCIA filed a similar suit in Florida earlier in 2021, and as of September 22, 2021, the law remains blocked following a preliminary injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle.

“By tying digital services’ hands, this unconstitutional law will put Texans at greater risk of exposure to disinformation, propaganda, and extremism. There are few First Amendment fouls clearer than regulating based on viewpoint. The law aside, it’s neither good policy nor good politics for Texas to make the Internet a safe space for bad actors, whether that be Taliban sympathizers or people encouraging kids to eat detergent pods,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement.

Telecom companies have spent $80 billion on capital expenditures

US Telecom’s 2020 annual analysis indicates a significant spending boost for broadband infrastructure amongst ISPs despite the pandemic.

The analysis indicated that providers’ capital expenditures were $79.4 billion higher than the previous year. This brought total capital expenditures for the industry up to $1.9 trillion since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed.

The study also indicated that in the first six months of 2020 alone, approximately five-million additional homes were connected to fiber broadband.

The study also notes that though this level of broadband spending is unprecedented, the approximately $42 billion earmarked for broadband spending by the bipartisan infrastructure framework is less than half of what American telcos invest in broadband annually.

“Putting 25 years of investment figures in context shows that America’s communications providers have a tremendous amount of ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to broadband network deployment, and it is important that additional regulations (beyond those ensuring taxpayer funding is spent as intended) not be structured so as to dissuade or slow private investment,” US Telecom Vice President of Strategic Initiations and Partnerships Mike Saperstein said in a release.

Study published linking broadband expansion to economic growth

Connected Nation published a study Wednesday with several key findings the demonstrate the relationship between improved broadband connectivity and positive economic growth in Michigan.

The study in question illustrated a correlation between expansions in broadband and improved unemployment rates, growth in the information sector, increased in-migration, greater median household income growth, and improved fixed broadband access, competition, and adoption.

Notably, according to the data, connected communities experienced a 9.3 percent change in household incomes between 2017 and 2019 while the statewide average improved by only 8.5 percent during that same period.

The study’s author and Director of Research and Development for Connected Nation Chris McGovern noted that these changes should not be expected in communities over a matter of weeks, and should be viewed as the benefits of long-term investments made for future growth.

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Broadband Roundup

Rosenworcel Talks Spectrum Strategy, Book on Broadband Policy Failure Released, Lifeline Awareness Week

FCC head talks spectrum and network strategy, broadband policy book released, and it’s Lifeline Awareness Week.

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Christopher Ali, author of Farm Fresh Broadband (photo from UVA Press)

September 21, 2021 — Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel spoke Tuesday about the agency’s spectrum strategy, reiterating that it is freeing up more spectrum, diversifying equipment and building security in the networks.

Rosenworcel, who was speaking at the 2021 NTIA Spectrum Policy Symposium on Tuesday, pointed out that the agency is focusing on freeing up critical mid-ban spectrum for 5G, saying that will be a “game changer” for the next-generation networks by ushering more competition, wider coverage and better performance. She pointed to the 3.45-3.55 Gigahertz band auction next month.

She also noted that she appreciates Congress’ focus on fiber broadband as the backbone for other technologies, including wireless networks, and said the FCC is committed to expanding the reach of fiber; that the agency has been focused on diversifying network equipment, including holding a showcase for open radio access network technologies; and that it is focused on the security of the networks, including removing untrusted equipment with policies like “rip and replace.”

“As today’s gathering demonstrates, in each of these principles—whether it is freeing spectrum, expanding broadband, diversifying networks, securing communications, or leading internationally—we have embraced the idea that no single entity can meet this challenge alone,” Rosenworcel said.

“We need a whole-of-government approach to get this done and one that is open to commercial innovation and opportunity,” she added. “To do this, we need to draw on the strengths in our national DNA—our hard-wired belief in the creative possibilities of the future, the power of coordination, and the rule of law.  This is how we turn spectrum scarcity into spectrum abundance.”

Book about broadband policy failure released

A book about the failure of U.S. broadband policy to solve the rural and urban digital divide has been released on Tuesday.

Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity explores the “promise and failure of national rural broadband policy in the United States and proposes a new national broadband plan,” according to the MIT press, which published the book.

The author, Christopher Ali, “argues that rural broadband policy is both broken and incomplete: broken because it lacks coordinated federal leadership and incomplete because it fails to recognize the important roles of communities, cooperatives, and local providers in broadband access,” the webpage says.

This week is Lifeline Awareness Week

The Federal Communications Commission is partnering with organization in an outreach effort to raise awareness about a program designed to make communications more affordable for low-income consumers, the agency said Tuesday.

The FCC said it is partnering with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates to acknowledge Lifeline Awareness Week, which runs from September 20 to September 24, 2021.

The Lifeline program provides up to a $9.25 monthly discount on communications services and up to $34.25 monthly for those on Tribal lands.

The awareness week is part of a larger outreach goal of the FCC to communicate that programs exist for low-income Americans to get connected.

During a discussion hosted by the Innovation Alliance on September 13, Rosenworcel said outreach is the “most valuable thing” for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which offers subsidies of $50 and $75 for low-income Americans, the latter for those living on Tribal lands. Those who qualify for the Lifeline program also qualify for the EBB program.

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